Then and Now: Closer Economic Integration with the US 1985 and 2011

From Vancouver Sun, From Yukon to Yucatan, cross-border compatibility makes a lot of sense Life would be easier, more cost-efficient

By Colin Robertson, Special To Postmedia News February 5, 2011

As we begin negotiations to take economic integration between Canada and the United States to the next level, it is worth reflecting on what has changed between now and the last time we embarked along this path.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the acceptance by Canadians that freer trade works to our advantage.

In 1984-85, opinion was sharply divided. Brian Mulroney had been elected by taking the traditional Conservative approach in opposing free trade before deciding to take the free-trade leap of faith. About a quarter of Canadians were favourable to the idea and the same number opposed.

The majority recognized that the status quo — increasing American protectionism coupled with structural economic deficiencies including deficits and unemployment — wasn’t serving our interests. There were doubts about the Americans’ willingness to truly level the playing field, about our ability to compete internationally, and about our capacity to preserve our independence.

The 1988 election nearly turned on a successful debating performance by John Turner on the sovereignty issue and the opposition of then-Ontario premier David Peterson.

After a bitter couple of years of adjustment, we proved that we can compete internationally. A decade of trade-driven prosperity persuaded the provincial premiers. The Liberals came around after a leadership change and some cosmetic changes in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).

As a result of program reviews, deregulation and an attitudinal change to deficits, we are the poster child for prudent and responsible government. The domestic give and take that will be required this time is not likely to be nearly as politically contentious.

Importantly, we can count on the premiers, whose intervention with their governor counterparts made the difference in securing the reciprocity agreement on procurement last year.

We enjoyed perimeter defence from the Ogdensburg Declaration in 1940 until 9-11, when the curtain came down on the 49th Parallel. Extending the Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) model of sharing and pooling of information and intelligence to the already-close working relationship between law enforcement, migration and intelligence communities makes sense.

Collaborative neighbourhood watch is necessary to persuade the Americans to lift the curtain for legitimate goods and travellers. In return, we must have assured access for people and goods. The interruption of just-in-time delivery is already affecting investment decisions. Coupled with our petro-dollar, the Canadian advantages begin to diminish.

We’ll preserve our separate migration regimes, including different visa practises, but the Americans will insist on biometrics.

This is the recommendation of the 9-11 Commission — but we’ve already recognized its utility in the Smart Border Accord. Those who refuse to give this information will have to accept delays and interrogation. Our Charter of Rights does not apply to those crossing into the United States.

Regulatory compatibility makes a lot of sense. Mexico and Europe are ahead of us in negotiations with the Americans. We need to catch up because nowhere is the narcissism of difference more profound and unnecessary. Differences in food regulations, for example, means fortified Cheerios must be produced with slightly different compositions in each of our countries.

As U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson observes: “Not once have I felt less healthy.”

The difference in standards leads to separate production runs, less efficient trade and higher costs for producers and consumers. It’s time to take a blowtorch to these differences.

Our economic interests also argue for a truly cooperative approach to managing the arteries of our economic success. Let us adopt policies of open skies and open roads and take the example of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority to stewardship of our gateways, rail and road links, ports and pipelines and the grids that power our society.

For more than a century we’ve taken a continental approach to our commons — the International Joint Commission is an international model for sensible trans-boundary water management. We’ve built on this model and collaboratively cleaned up the Great Lakes and rid our skies of acid rain. Climate reform and management of the Arctic is the logical next step in environmental stewardship.

Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s vision was of a “common market from the Yukon to the Yucatan.” His persuasiveness brought along both his administration and a divided Congress.

If Canadians have faith to go forward, can the same be said of the Americans? Harper can play a mean tune but will Obama sing along? The president knows his re-election will hinge on his capacity to create jobs.

America’s largest market, whether known or not, is Canada. If Obama is to double American exports, then Canada must figure in the equation.

The president told us that he loved us when he made his first trip to Ottawa. Now we will find out how much.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson is vice-president and senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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A Different Canada

Excerpted from John Ivison National Post Saturday, February 5, 2011 Canada could be a very different place

In his excellent new paper: “Now for the Hard Part: Renewing the Canadian-American Partnership,” former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson offered some advice for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the eve of his departure for Washington to sign a new perimeter security deal with President Barack Obama.

He quoted Daniel Burnham, the great Chicago architect, who once said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Mr. Robertson suggested that Mr. Harper should think big.

The new shared vision for perimeter security and economic competitiveness may not stir anyone’s blood, since it is in essence an agreement to seek future agreement. But make no mistake: The Beyond the Border declaration has the potential to take Canada to the next rung of economic integration with the United States.

The specifics revealed at the press conference in Washington were limited to bromides about the creation of a Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council, which has been charged with the task of investigating why Cheerios on either side of the border have to have a slightly different formulation. But this deal is not solely consumed with ending the “narcissism of small differences” around regulation — it has the potential to be transformative for travellers, businesses and consumers

in ways that will be hailed by some Canadians and deemed unwelcome by others.

Mr. Harper acknowledged that the Washington declaration is a “starting point” for “an ambitious agenda.” He played down fears about Canada’s sovereignty being trampled by saying the deal is in the national interest.

Yet there’s no disguising the fact that if the border deal is carried to its logical conclusion, Canada will be a very different place than it is now.

On migration policy — possibly the biggest sticking point — the declaration states that the two countries will work together “to establish and verify the identities of travellers and conduct screening at the earliest opportunity.”

The intention is that fingerprints and retinal scans will become routine, leading to the evolution of an integrated entry-exit system, where entry into one country serves to verify exit from the other. This would require an unprecedented exchange of personal information.

The two countries already share watch-lists and passenger manifest lists for flights crossing each other’s airspace. But public opinion in Canada, already hardened by the Maher Arar case, may not welcome the sharing of more and more personal information with the Americans.

There was little detail available on how a perimeter security arrangement might work in practice, beyond a reference to increased cooperation across “air, land and maritime domains, as well as space and cyberspace.” This suggests that the NORAD joint air defence model may be adopted on land and sea. One practical example may be the emergence of joint customs facilities .

What else will it mean on the ground? Will Canada sign up to the Ballistic Missile Defence program that Paul Martin’s Liberal government snubbed? Will American ships patrol the Northwest Passage, which the U.S. considers an international waterway but Canada claims as an internal strait? If so, what does that mean for Mr. Harper’s Arctic sovereignty strategy?

In the run-up to a potential election, you might wonder why Mr. Harper is willing to risk the inevitable assault from the Left that he has sold the country’s soul for American gold. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff foreshadowed his line of attack by saying the deal has the potential to “betray Canadian values.” But Mr. Harper’s motives are transparent: jobs.

When the Americans stepped up security at the border after 9/11, they exerted extreme pressure on Canada’s trade jugular. A look at the tourism statistics give some indication of the impact. In 2009, overnight visits from the U.S. totalled 11.7 million, down from more than 17 million in 2002.

On the business side, border congestion has interrupted just-in-time delivery for products manufactured on both sides of the border.

The Harper government finally resolved that it had to act and found a willing partner in Barack Obama, who has his own reasons for wanting trade to flow more freely, not least his stated ambition to double U.S. exports.

The potential for a deal was greatly improved by the comradeship apparent between the Prime Minister and the President, who have cooperated effectively on thorny issues ranging from the auto bailout to Afghanistan.

In the end, the enthusiasm on display in Washington Friday could quickly turn to ennui. The Security and Prosperity Partnership was launched with similar fanfare by George W. Bush, Mexican president Vicente Fox and then-prime minister Paul Martin in 2005. It was a similar, if more modest, package but did not survive the departure of its signatories.

Geoffrey Hale, a professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, said that this declaration appears more substantive than anything we’ve seen in recent years. In his opinion, its success or failure will depend on whether Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama are truly committed to ensuring they get results from the various working groups charged with implementing the declaration. “The SPP died of analysis paralysis, administrative overload and the absence of political will,” he said.

The other hurdle to success will be convincing Canadians and Americans that the deal really is in their respective national interests. We already know that the opposition parties here are intent on debasing the debate to the level of partisan demagoguery.

But Mr. Ignatieff and his party would be well-advised to listen to one of their own before rushing to judgment.

As John Manley, the president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a former Liberal deputy prime minister, put it: “Sovereignty is enhanced when prosperity is enhanced.”

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